Special Education Needs


Justice-involved youth with special education needs are entitled to receive special education services while being detained in the juvenile justice system.


  •  Congress reauthorized the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 and in 2015 amended it through Public Law 114-95 "Every Student Succeeds Act." The Act states, "Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities."1
  •  A significant proportion of youth in the juvenile justice system have education-related disabilities and are eligible for special education.2
    • Example: Youth with learning disabilities or an emotional need are arrested at higher rates than their nondisabled peers.
    • Studies of incarcerated youth indicate that up to 70% suffer from a disability.
  •  While 8.6% of public-school students qualify for special education services, justice-involved youth are more likely to have both identified and undiscovered disabilities.3
    • The Individualized Education Program (IEP)
      • Under the 1987 IDEA amendments, an IEP is developed to identify a particular youth’s disability. The results of the IEP help determine a child’s need for special education and related services.
      • The IEP provides critical information about a particular youth’s education status. This information is gathered by the IEP team, parents, teachers and other related professionals.
      • The IEP documentation includes the youth’s present levels of educational performance, their special education needs, the services to be delivered, objectives to be met, timelines for completion and assessment of progress.


  •  Review the IEP recommendations prior to engaging a youth in formal court proceedings. Develop viable communication processes between law enforcement, school district professionals and parents or guardian in conjunction with the juvenile justice system to ensure that youth with disabilities receive the appropriate services required under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Examples of Regional Resources

Special Education and Institutional Education Directory October 2020: published by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Special Education in Washington: overview of the laws affecting students' special education, legal rights and options and where to get legal help. Published by the Northwest Justice Project, Disability Rights Washington and TeamChild.

[1] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/about-idea/

[2] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/179359.pdf, Chesapeake Institute, 1994; SRI International, Center for Educational Human Services, 1997

[3] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/179359.pdf, Leone et al., 1995